Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

Derry approach rematch with caution and determination

Dual player: Mark Craig (left) totally committed to football now after playing hurling for Derry
Dual player: Mark Craig (left) totally committed to football now after playing hurling for Derry

Mark Craig's recollections of Derry's eclipse by Longford in the All-Ireland football qualifiers two years ago are still all too vivid.

In a match that hastened the exit of then manager John Brennan and which was spliced with contentious refereeing decisions, Derry's fall from grace was nothing less than ignominious.

But Craig is determined that when the sides renew their rivalry at Celtic Park today in the same competition the outcome will be different.

Manager Brian McIver has performed surgery on his line-up since the Ulster Championship loss to Donegal earlier this month and remains hopeful that a return to winning ways is imminent.

His optimism is shared by centre-half-back Craig who, up until recently, was a member of that rare breed – a dual player.

"I enjoyed playing hurling for Derry as well as football but it got to the point where I had to make a choice and football won," explains Craig, who will be at centre-half-back this evening in a Derry side that has undergone radical alterations since their Ulster championship exit.

It's a position in which he has distinguished himself in the past and, while he believes that Derry will carry no mental baggage into the game because of that setback in 2012, nonetheless caution will underpin their approach.

"I resolved at the start of the year to give total commitment to football. Apart from that league final defeat to Dublin and the loss to Donegal in the Ulster championship, things have gone not too badly but we have a bit of ground to make up now," concedes Craig.

"Competition for places in the side is very keen and the fact that a number of changes have been made for this game underlines that. I played in a few games during the league and was used as a substitute in others so I got a reasonable diet of action.

"I have also had quite a bit of club action and I'm really up for today's match. We have a big point to make after what happened to us last year But we will have to watch our step."

A knee injury kept Craig out of action for the greater part of last year but he's firing on all cylinders now, anxious to see Derry pride restored.

"We knew Donegal would be hard to beat and we just didn't manage it. But we have worked hard since then and I think our spirit and teamwork will stand to us on this occasion against Longford," he adds.

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